Aishwarya Ramesh

A look at Vice Media's SMS led news campaign for Kashmiri youth

Conceptualised by Dentsu Webchutney, the portal is called 'The 8-Bit Journo.'

On August 5, 2019, Article 370 giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir was revoked. This was followed by a communication blackout leaving the youth of Kashmir in a state of complete information darkness. Vice Media has collaborated with Dentsu Webchutney to bring out the world's first teletext news portal, christened The 8-Bit Journo. Relevant news stories that Kashmiris had missed out on were converted into teletext and dispatched to lakhs of Kashmiris through SMS.

The 8-Bit Journo as seen on mobiles
The 8-Bit Journo as seen on mobiles
A look at Vice Media's SMS led news campaign for Kashmiri youth

Relevant news stories that Kashmiris had missed out on over the last 110 days were converted into teletext and dispatched to lakhs of Kashmiris through SMS, the moment cellular phone service resumed in Jammu and Kashmir. News stories with cultural relevance to youth were carefully curated and then converted into visually impactful pieces with the objective to facilitate a faster integration of Kashmiris back into the global fold. An introductory message inviting people to subscribe to the 8-bit Journo and access headlines across the globe, was sent out. Once subscribed, a story was automatically pushed out to them each day.

Sarvesh Jasuja, senior growth manager, APAC, Vice Media confirms that the articles that were converted into teletext were selected from Vice's own website. "The curated articles were converted into teletext using open-source software. These converted articles were then extensively tested with our vendor to make sure they were compatible with multiple devices, ensuring their readability," he says. He mentions that the campaign was a joint effort by the editorial team, the audience development team at Vice and the creative department at Dentsu Webchutney.

Sarvesh Jasuja
Sarvesh Jasuja

"We tried to put ourselves in the shoes of the audience we were sending out the articles to and tried to understand what kind of articles/news they’d be interested in reading, considering the situation around them. Each article was chosen with the dual objective of entertaining and enlightening the person receiving the message. All of this was done keeping our key demographic in mind," says Jasuja. Users also have the option of sharing an article by forwarding the message, after reading the text.

"Connecting with the youth through the content we put out has always been important for us and the 8 Bit Journo gave us a chance to connect with the youth in Kashmir, and also gave us a chance to entertain and enlighten them through the bite sized content that we shared," he says.

Aalap Desai, executive creative director, Dentsu Webchutney adds, “Necessity is the mother of invention. In today’s day and age, we cannot imagine a world without the internet. We would not just be devoid of information but also the essential human connection that we all need. The purpose of digital is to add value to human lives. So, while you go forward sometimes looking for futuristic tech to work on, you also need to go backwards to solve a problem; and that is exactly what we exactly did.”

Aalap Desai
Aalap Desai

About the selection process of the articles, Desai says the Webchutney team worked in close collaboration with the Vice Media editorial team, curating the articles that were to be shared. “These articles were then converted into the Unicode format using open-sourced tools. They were then extensively tested in partnership with our vendor on multiple devices. During the time of the blackout, a lot of events took place in the country. We targeted people who primarily relied on the internet for their dose of news. Each message also had a line which encouraged the receiver to forward these news updates to their friends and family,” he explains.

Post curation, the article was run through an open-sourced software to create teletext, headlines and art. These were then compared to the articles, tested and then shared with the masses. Desai adds that due to the communications blackout imposed by the Indian government, the internet could only be accessed by a few government offices and some businesses (conditionally.) “The average resident in these areas still can’t access the internet. As network connectivity was also choppy, SMSes turned out to be the most reliable form of mobile communication, as SMS texts could be sent even in low-connectivity situations. Due to the lack of communication and access to information in Jammu and Kashmir, we decided to do something about the growing uncertainty in the minds of the youth. Thus, we set out to connect this generation through a medium that could be accessed easily, while giving them an experience they were familiar with,” says Desai.

He points out that while TV channels continued to function, they are not as accessible to everyone in the same way that a phone is. “Many people in the state turned to radio for news updates. Unfortunately, these mediums covered limited news stories that were targeted at the masses, not the youth. We gave control to the users by giving them a more accessible option. Also, these stories were picked basis the interests of the audience,” Desai explains.

"SMS services were restored on December 10, 2019. Our first SMS blast to these users was also sent on this date, as soon as the services were resumed. With The 8-Bit Journo, Dentsu Webchutney helped Vice connect with their audience at a time when the free-flow of information was crucial,” says Desai.

The teams responsible for reconnecting young people from Jammu and Kashmir to lifestyle and digital news are:

Vice Media Team

Senior Growth Manager, VICE APAC: Sarvesh Jasuja

Editor-in-chief, VICE APAC: Natashya Gutierrez

Audience growth manager: Pratik Patra

Associate editor: Dhvani Solani

Staff writer: Pallavi Pundir

Staff writer: Shamani Joshi

Dentsu Webchutney Team

EVP and branch head: Nishi Kant

Executive creative director: Aalap Desai

Senior vice president: Harsh Shah

AVP strategy: Pragati Rana

Creative director (copy): Yash Kulshresth

Creative director (art): Ananda Sen

Senior brand strategist: Rohit Nair

Account director: Rumi Behramkamdin

Group head copy: Sonia Gupta

Group head art: Aabhaas Shreshtha

Senior copywriter: Anirudh Venugopal

Senior visualiser: Devdutt Viz

Senior motion graphic artist: Sahil Chauhan

Associate account manager: Esha Bhivandker